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Inspiration Meets Strategy: The Top 10 Must-Read Books for Marketers

Jess Bahr
Updated Jan 23, 2023

Get ready to be inspired while learning key marketing strategies. You do not want to miss these marketing page-turners.

Get ready to be inspired while learning key marketing strategies. You do not want to miss these marketing page-turners.

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.”

Now as cliché as it is to begin an article with a quote, I simply couldn’t resist.

Nor could I resist following Emerson’s advice, in this case seeking out reading recommendations from a group of marketers, from CEOs to entrepreneurs, with rare intellect.

Marketing intelligence comes from many places: experience, education, mentorship, and I’ve found, excellent reading materials.

So I polled some awesome marketers to find out what’s on their bookshelves. Unsurprisingly, there was a common theme among their recommendations.

Multiple people started by recommending just about any book written by such highly regarded thought leaders as Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, or Dave Kerpen.

While others choose more esoteric reads. They gave compelling reasons to find time in between between guilty pleasure podcasts and your morning paper for books by marketing’s sharpest minds. From the smattering I’ve been able to read or browse, I can tell you first hand the payoff is worth the effort.

Let’s get into it.

1. Blue Ocean by W. Chan Kim

Blue Ocean Strategy Book Cover

Jim Anderson, CEO at SocialFlow recommends Blue Ocean. He told me that this book is well-known enough to be brought up regularly in business and strategy discussions.

That’s a sign of relevance if there ever was one! In his words the idea is as follows: “Quit trying to do what everyone else does only a little bit better. And instead do something entirely new.”

2. #AskGaryVee by Gary Vaynerchuk

#AskGaryVee Book Cover

Jacob Wolfman, a Martial Arts Videographer recommended New York Times best selling author Vaynerchuk’s most recent book as his absolutely top book for marketers right now.

According to Wolfman, it has the most comprehensive and up-to-date ideas about how to sell online in 2016. It’s been described by other reviewers as honest, practical, unconventional, and even outrageous.

With this book you can learn how to use Twitter effectively, hire the right people, create a personal brand, and even stay healthy.

3. YouTility by Jay Baer

Youtility Book Cover

Brian Fanzo chose Jay Baer’s book as his latest must-read. Why? Because it teaches marketers how to not just be great, but to be useful to their customers.

According to Baer (and many others), genuinely helping someone is the best way to inspire customer loyalty. Dive into many examples of companies doing just that with Baer’s ideas for creating the best possible relationship with your customers.

Nick Cicero, founder of Delmondo, also listed YouTility as a top read, citing Baer’s ability to illustrate a concept often overlooked by business leaders today – that the only way to truly connect with people is by providing value where and when it is needed most.

4. Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday

Trust Me, Im Lying Book Cover

Chris Kubbernus summarizes this read with a simple takeaway: While it’s a frightening truth that media manipulation is too easy, it’s also a possible growth hack. Holiday’s snappy title is enticing for its honesty.

People like him (often recklessly) control the conversation, including the news, and he wants to give you insider secrets on how to avoid being blindsided by the media by understanding how it really works. Sounds valuable, doesn’t it? I thought so, too.

5. The Art of Seduction by Robert Green

The Art of Seduction Book cover

Pavel Konoplenko took a different approach to my question. Green’s book is not a marketing book at all. Konoplenko doesn’t really read marketing books, so to speak.

However, he sees intriguing overlaps between marketing and seduction, as marketing plays a large role in humanizing a brand and oftentimes has seductive power. This book will help you harness that power for good.

6. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Think and Grow Rick

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Marketing leader Austin Iuliano told me the core principles of this book have been tried and true for generations.

He explained that they are the first steps businessmen and women need to master. Iuliano specifically called out this one poignant idea: “Do more than you are paid for and soon you will be paid for more than you do.”

Small Data Book cover

Mark Schaefer found this book incredibly valuable for its cleverness and insight that takes marketing back to its roots. Lindstrom focuses on the power of small data to uncover the next great idea.

The author has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands, traveling all over the world to carefully observe every detail of human behavior in order to help define the latest product. Follow his journey by picking up this compelling read.

8. Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin

Purple Cow Book cover

Peter Syravong credits Godin’s book as an update to the five P’s of marketing, using relevant brands to go beyond talking about how to be great and shows his readers how to be exceptional (much like a purple cow).

Godin’s book is a straightforward, simple read which illustrates with powerful examples how to create something outside the everyday, not just in your marketing but with great products.

For bonus points, follow Godin’s incredibly popular blog.

9. The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller & Jay Papasan

The One Thing book cover

John L Dumas, of Entrepreneur on Fire, says his greatest takeaway from this book was focus. To be more specific, focusing your energy to improve your life and your work.

Individuals and organizations are starting to do this better. The key to focus lies in this book which teaches its readers how to cut through clutter, build momentum, curb stress, and maintain energy in order to achieve their goals, or whatever it is that matters most.

This book has been on countless best seller lists from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal and has already been translated into 24 languages. Set some time aside and focus on reading this remarkable book.

10. The Content Code by Mark Schaefer

The Content Code Book cover

Last but not least I’ll offer my own recommendation. In the ever growing content marketing sphere, Schaefer does a great job of laying out a strategy for not only breaking through the noise but developing a highly engaged audience through content that drives what Schaefer calls content transmission.

Successful content marketing often relies on factors outside the content itself – this book is Schaefer’s guide to the new rules to succeed in digital marketing.

Hopefully among these ten reading recommendations, you’ve found something that strikes your fancy. Even if you can’t find the time to sit down and read each one cover to cover, having one of these gems sitting on your desk offers something to turn to when you feel your efforts have stalled or your hard work isn’t having the results you hoped.

One of the greatest struggles in marketing is stagnation, which seems to be a recurring theme among many of these books. Each one offers their own strategy to avoid this common pitfall, by doing something original, controlling the conversation, inspiring customer love, or improving your own personal contributions.

Now I want to hear from you. What are your reading recommendations for powerful marketing or a more successful life? We’re listening.

Image Credit: Yulia Grigoryeva/Shutterstock
Jess Bahr
Jess Bahr is Director of Paid Social at SocialFlow where she spends her days working with some of the world's greatest brands on their paid social strategy. Named one of the Top 20 Mobile Influencers on Twitter, you can find her on any social platform @JessaBahr.